Knowledge through encounters with others – that’s the concept behind the Rhijnspoorgebouw (RSG), the new technology building of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Since its purpose is meeting, that’s exactly what this building enacts: not only do its two volumes come together to create a whole, but one of these daringly interacts with a neighbouring building to form a huge social hub, the atrium.
For this project, Powerhouse Company teamed up with Architekten Cie, which has a great reputation for large-scale urban projects, and Marc Koehler Architects. Like Powerhouse Company’s own Nanne de Ru, Marc Koehler actually studied at the client school in the past.
A team was created with members from each office. Our joint proposal won the competition not only because it incorporated the idea of knowledge through meeting, but also because it demonstrated respect for the surrounding historical context, plus great flexibility when it comes to future use.
The site is on the border of Amsterdam’s historic city centre. It forms the gateway to the HvA (Hogeschool van Amsterdam) campus on the Wibautstraat. Together with the Benno Premsela building (on the other side of the street), it forms the transition from the city centre to the campus.
Next to the Rhijnspoorgebouw is the Kohnstammhuis (KSH). This monumental building plays a defining role in the streetscape. Therefore, we were careful to move our RSG tower slightly to one side. At the same time, our tower is marginally taller than the Kohnstammhuis, creating a new spatial identity for itself while leaving the KSH in possession of its own.
The lower block of the RSG is placed in front of the Theo Thijssenhuis (TTH). In between them, the atrium is formed. The height of the low block not only complements the TTH, but also creates a transition towards the lower-lying existing housing. With these two main blocks, a high tower and a lower block, the urban context of the HvA campus is completed.
1 When we saw the building envelope, we noticed that it would create a very narrow and unpleasant street in between the buildings.
2 By placing the program in two main blocks with different heights we created a clear urban composition and a pleasant space in between the buildings.
3 This in-between space functions as a large atrium which is the showcase for all the faculties.
4 The rational character of the two main blocks enable great flexibility in floor plan configurations. In the future they can even be split into separate buildings if needed.
The atrium is at the centre of this knowledge-sharing education paradigm. All the faculties have their own floor, complete with their own terrace opening out on the atrium. The atrium is the place where the disciplines meet each other. This is the central ‘showcase’ of the building. From this vantage point, everyone can see what everyone else is doing. This showcase element was an important factor for the client during the competition.
You could say that the building is hard on the outside and soft in its centre, in its central atrium concept. Here, the different departments flow into each other. From the common ground floor, every section of the university is visible. The entire building is organized around this central meeting area for teaching, knowledge and innovation.
Two separate volumes create the space for the atrium and fit carefully into the urban context. One volume is a clear landmark, while the other volume makes a gesture towards the street. The base of these two structures is a simple, standardized prefabricated skeleton on a grid of 14.4 × 10.8 metres.
From the clear and simple structure of the Rhijnspoorgebouw, a dynamic and spacious building rises. In this open environment, teaching and the communication of knowledge are promoted in a very natural way. Human interactions are the result of the spatial interactions.
The importance of communication in educational buildings is only increasing, and our central atrium reflects this. Our building also needed to accommodate other, coming developments in the world of education.
While respecting the monuments surrounding it, the building can be easily adapted for the future. Technical engineering in the 21st century focuses on the integration and optimisation of form and function that involves sustainability techniques. The new Rhijnspoorgebouw unites these principals into one integrated whole.
Education is changing rapidly, and the building needs to be able to accommodate future developments. Flexibility is therefore central in the design. For example, the production labs where students currently create their designs are big machinery rooms, equipped with heavy machines. In a few years, 3D printers will probably be the norm, changing spatial needs.
We relished the challenge of creating a really good building that would unite flexibility with high quality.
The materials and details of the Rhijnspoorgebouw will help to further its objectives. Its main façade will be natural stone – to harmonize with its context - with aluminium used on the sides. The glass will be triple-layer glazing for increased insulation and therefore sustainability.
The atrium roof will be made of wooden laminated beams. Together with the wooden (acoustic) sides of the atrium, this creates a deeply human and friendly interior, encouraging sociability.
The detailing of the façade is important. The strong grid on the outside needs to be detailed to a very high level in order to ensure crisp expression. The same goes for the detailing of the terraces. These constitute ‘edge’ spaces that also function as places for students to sit and work (individually or in pairs). The border has an extra ‘desk’ in it, encouraging students to work on the edge – or across the borders – of their discipline.